What an incredible time had by all at this year’s Down The Hatch
. Just when it seems the event can’t get any better, it reaches new levels and I spend the long drive home beginning to plan for the next one.
This year’s three-day journey began with loading up the Tundra in Barrington, RI and hitting the road with singer/songwriter Colby James and crew member Rodney Millette. We ventured south for the annual pilgrimage to The Outer Banks of North Carolina and DTH 2014 was official underway.
I’ve realized by now that the road trip is the foreword to the story Down The Hatchers will collectively write about the weekend. Folks descend on OBX for this event from all across the country and countless fans have told that the experiences that happen during their travels are just as memorable.
Our Rhode Island crew pulled into coastal North Carolina late Tuesday and we immediately set up our ocean-facing room like we were college freshmen from the 70s, overtaking our dorm, armed with guitars, a PA, turntable and a crate full of vintage vinyl. Black light posters and tapestries were all that were missing.
Wednesday was our full-blown admin day, getting VIP bags ready for attendees and making sure all ducks were in a row so that a proper soak-it-all-in experience could take place.
The PIT—a surf shop, bar and basement rock club offered the perfect setting for a casual hang with the early-bird Down-The-Hatchers.
Keaton Simons, Patrick McAloon and Pat McGee getting things rolling Wednesday night.
We played a few tunes, sipped some libations and hung out in a killer setting with the early-birders. Seems like every year there are more and more folks making the good call to arrive Wednesday, which has become known for bonus impromptu performances by many of the artists who feel the spirit to get up, share some tunes and story-tell.
Late night the party spilled back to “Casa de McGee” where good wine flowed and the vinyl was probably spinning too late and too loudly. Sorry Ramada Plaza but we were in our zone.
Things officially kicked off on Thursday, chilling oceanfront all day with Down-The-Hatchers who were bracing for the impact of awesomeness that was brewing for the evening.
Kevin McFadden checking out the scene while keeping DTH running smoothly.
By late afternoon we took over the beachside back deck and over a half dozen artists played sets until almost midnight.
Come nightfall on the deck, when the weather is just right and the lights are all a-glow, there’s an unspoken promise that the attendees and musicians alike are primed to experience something wonderful.
This portion of DTH is always a true reflection of how my dream backyard party would play out. I’m in a down-home environment where I’m able to share all this amazing music with friends—new and old—in such a gorgeous, relaxed setting. The back deck performances truly encompass what DTH was originally set-up to do: share.
- Down The Hatchers taking in the Thursday night back deck jam.
Talented artists rotated and floored everyone with inspired collaborations, coupled with hysterical and heartfelt storytelling—every music-lover’s dream.
These moments only seem to come to fruition when you have the right mix of people, music and ambiance. On that late-May Thursday night in coastal North Carolina, we expereinced something special.
When the deck concert wrapped, a large contingent took over the hotel bar and followed the lead of two freaks in bad wigs—myself and the one-of-a-kind Steve Bentz—who attempted to host a game of Pictionary. (A valiant effort, but we’ll change gears next year. I already have a few grand ideas I look forward to sharing.)
Bentz and McGee—two freaks in bad wigs—hosting Pictionary.
From there, “DJ Tolcher” took things next-level, working the wheels-of-steel and pumping beats that took us to closing time, as Down-The-Hatchers showed off their spirited dance skills.
While the previous night ended with spinning records and cramming too many people into one room, we opted to take over the ballroom late Thursday, rolling in with guitars, a few bottles of red and a few dozen fans for an impromptu jam.
Voices were blown from a night of deck-serenading, but in the spirit of keeping the party going, Tony Lucca, Jason Adamo, Doug Casteen, Mic Cappdevielle (who can turn anything into a percussion instrument) and I formed what was a makeshift indoor campfire circle and belted out tunes for hours on end.
The late-night ballroom jam with Lucca, Adamo, Casteen and Mic.
The late-night magic is a bit foggy, but I vaguely remember the documentary crew in the house and might want to check that footage out before signing off on it!
What little sleep I got certainly helped for our 10:00 a.m. go-time; and a hearty thanks to my right-hand woman and DTH manager, Colleen Connor, the responsible one and glue that keeps this whole thing together.
C.C. made sure I was up on time, put together and ready to rock on the beach with those responsible folks who actually went to bed pre-sunrise.
Despite any lack of downtime, everyone brought their A-game Friday morning for the guitar lessons with fans, which has become one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend.
Guitar lessons and songwriting sessions are what make Down The Hatch special.
Getting to know and talk with aspiring musicians who come back year after year, more skilled and seasoned than they were the summer before—that’s what it’s all about.
Some of these folks have literally gone from baby steps and two chords, to performing their own music at gigs in their hometowns. It’s amazing. There are even kids at DTH these days who play circles around what I was doing at their age.
Next year this portion of the event will be enhanced. I’ll be in touch about that, but know that my gears are-a-turnin’, so keep strumming, my friends.
The Friday and Saturday beach sets were everything I’d hoped they would be and have organically grown into arguably the most chill musical experience one can soak in.
The Friday morning beach concert, that ran until sundown.
Down-The-Hatchers set up their lounge chairs, umbrellas and blankets, gazing at the Atlantic like just another standard day at the beach—only it so wasn’t, with some of our nation’s best singer/songwriters serenading them until sundown.
Honestly, how could it get any better?
Some other highlights rolling through my head as I recap this incredible weekend:
— I kicked off the event by performing my entire new album (selfishly, I might add) as I couldn’t have been more excited to share these songs with my “Hatchers” family.
I was still working through these new songs, hadn’t yet performed them for an audience and knew that we’d be tracking them in Los Angeles a few weeks later, which we just wrapped mid-June. Down The Hatch proved the perfect venue to debut some of my most-personal songs to date.
I was accompanied by Kit Karlson and Chip Johnson (of Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers and The Alternate Routes fame), who are also producing my latest effort with me. Kit dominated on the magical-sand-sinking Wurlitzer piano, while Chip held down “bass in black” (side note, I’m quite certain Mr. Johnson showers in multiple layers of black clothing).
Chip Johnson, Pat McGee and Kit Karlson, sporting rockin' beachwear.
We were joined by my longtime sidekick and percussion-master Chardy McEwan and my newest longtime sidekick, vocal powerhouse and guitmandoista, Patrick McAloon. Everything came together as I had envisioned and I can’t tell everyone enough how much I dug trying out my new material, in that setting, to fresh ears and a captive audience.
Chardy McEwan finding that groove.
— I still have visions of Colby James running around to each sun-worshipper, having them sing a verse of “Wagon Wheel”, while joined by “Banjo”—a fine gentleman (who does actually play banjo)—we met while touring overseas for the Navy in Africa.
Reuniting with “Banjo” on the shores of the Outer Banks after having him sit in with us in Djibouti—it brought everything full circle. (Seriously, how cool is that?) TJ Sweeney joined Colby and together they absolutely delivered the goods. So, so glad these two fine Rhode Island artists joined us again this past year.
Colby James and TJ Sweeney bringing The Ocean State vibe to DTH.
— Emily Hearn and her talented husband and bass player, Michael Hearn, doing what they do best… laying down sweet melodies and easy-going tunes that you could listen to all day long. I appreciate having this duo at this event and always love the reaction from fans who hear Emily for the first time and wonder where she’s been hiding all their lives.
Michael and Emily Hearn performing beachside.
— Jason Adamo getting after it, as always, with a great band of guys backing him proper. Such a massive voice and presence. I’m sure someone on the shores of Spain got a free concert during his beachside set. Dude can carry.
Doug Casteen and Jason Adamo mid-set on Friday.
— My main man McAloon showing his incredible range of talents, as well as getting to see his family take in his set and all that he brought to the event. Each year DTH hosts more young kids and I absolutely love that. Maybe we’ll see ‘Team McGee’ taking over the beach next year, in McAloon-fam-like fashion.
Kids are becoming a big part of the family-friendly Down The Hatch.
— Luke Brindley bringing what he brings to an event like this. His sets were absolutely perfect, with well-crafted songs. Such a unique voice and talent, not to mention a killer guitar skillset. Luke is a true artist who has stood the test of time. We were honored to have him back with us.
The super-talented Luke Brindley.
— Loved getting an impromptu set from Jonathan Williams, one of the founding members of the Pat McGee Band. J-Dub is an incredibly gifted musician who also happens to be working on his debut album, so stay tuned for that … and check out the height he got while summoning the Kill Devil Hill Sea Beast with his magical mouth organ.
Jonathan Williams—never afraid to let loose.
— Aside from his masterful DJing efforts, Michael Tolcher again proved to be the heart and soul of another Down The Hatch and shone especially bright during those seaside sets. Something so free about all of it that allows Tolcher to be Tolcher. I hear MT is soon releasing a new album. All I can say is, “hell yeah” and bring it to DTH ’15, Michael.
Michael Tolcher bringing some serious energy.
— The raw talent that is Tony Lucca is just so plain nasty, in the best way. So glad he had his moment with the nation on NBC’s “The Voice” a few years back, showing everyone what we Hatchers have all know for years—that he’s the real-deal and we’re always lucky to have him doing his thing at this event.
Tony Lucca dazzling the crowd, as always.
— Keaton Simons … what else can you say? The man exudes so much joy, positivity and love—while winning every nightly costume contest, hands down—and when able to grab a mic and guitar to express himself, it’s apparent why he was put on this earth.
It wouldn’t be Down The Hatch without Keaton (I would need to get a lot more tattoos and a killer perm) and hugs to his lady Laura Goldfarb—the anti-Yoko. She’s amazingly talented in her own right (Big Kahuna at Red Boot PR and as passionate of a music-enthusiast that exists) and we love her. Thank you for lifting everything up, up, up!
Laura Goldfarb (far left) and Keaton Simons (far right) getting groovy with fellow Hatchers.
— Matt Duke and his tenacious knack for casually drawing you into his world and then just soul-crushing you with intense, heart-wrenching performances, followed-up with sweet lullaby’s you’d sing to babies and kittens. Or they’d sing to you…. I’m not sure which, but I promise for sure that kittens are somehow involved.
The unassuming Matt Duke in the middle of a rocking set.
— Lastly, I’d be doing this section a disservice if I didn’t give a rousing shout-out to the baddest band in the land, “The Rollaways”—Mic “Micky Styxx” Cappdevielle and Steve “Bentz” Bentz.
Their commitment to not only all-day AND all-night rockin’, but their all-in, whatever-it-takes mentality to theme nights is priceless. These guys back the majority of the artists from sun-up to sun-down and in my opinion, deserve their own Down The Hatch, don’t you think? I know I’d buy a ticket.
Mic and Steve doing their best Daddy Mack and Mack Daddy.
For those who haven’t witnessed Bentz’s now legendary action, check him out on Vine. He and Mic instantly give us street-cred and make us cooler, while making Barry Gibb and Larry Dallas weep with envy about the overpowering sexuality and aura achieved on 70′s theme night.
Back to the recap, both Friday and Saturday nights truly rocked. For the first time ever we decided to keep the evening shows exclusive to Down The Hatch revelers. Ben Sproul at The PIT gave us free reign of the college-themed, dark, crowded, rock club vibe for 90′s night (which all us musicians miss and long for).
The result might have been us playing too long and too loudly, while trying to recapture that era’s flanneled-out magic, but hey, that’s rock and roll last time I checked. I guess we could’ve turned it down a notch and ended earlier—NOT!”
Brindley, McGee and Bentz going over song choices on 90's night.
All the artists slayed on Friday night—a mix of original tunes and era-appropriate cover tunes. I have to give props for the musicianship, as well as the all-in mentality regarding the outfits. “The Rollaways” earned a Yo! MTV Raps-like, “Oh snap!” when donning Kris Kross reverse threads, while McAloon opened up a (Whiz) can of whoop-ass, dropping “Cold Beverage” by Philly’s pride and joy, G-Love.
Adamo and Duke looked like they took a time machine to the venue direct from 1993 with their alt-rock garb, with Adamo laying down a version of Pearl Jam’s “Alive” that would’ve made Eddie Vedder shake in his Doc Martens.
The later it got, coupled with non-stop trips to the back bar, the more liberty we took launching into tunes we hadn’t played in a decade or so. McAloon’s sweet mandolin made for a solid rendition of REM’s “Losing My Religion”, with a sea of artists on stage while he, Colby, TJ and I took a stab at “Hunger Strike” by Temple Of The Dog.
McAloon, Duke and Bentz covering REM's "Losing My Religion" on 90's night.
Home-skillet J-Willy was on point when I asked him to bang out some Garth Brooks and the dude that took the guitar solo—you straight!—while home-slice Tolcher brought the house down with his raps.
Emily was all, “talk to the hand” when she showed us how it was done with her Cranberries cover, while Tony went boy-band status and smoked the room with his Brit-Brit cover, “Baby One More Time.”
Tearing up The PIT while Jonathan Williams OWNS Garth Brooks on 90's night.
Keaton was stylin’ and profilin’ in his puffy Planet Hollywood jacket, pager and dope fanny pack, adding to his legend status.
One dude was like, “Bro, Keaton’s outfit is so ugly,” and I was all, “So is your face. Peace out, m’kay!” Around 3:00 a.m. I was all, “Let’s bounce” and back to the Ramada we rolled. The only buzzkill that night was the sunrise, which a dozen of us took in on the sand….
Keaton Simons and the now famous Planet Hollywood jacket and one Spicy Girl.
In Groundhog Day-esque fashion, we were back at it again Saturday morning with virtually zero shut-eye, which is the name of the game. There really is no “off” switch and “Hatchers” have accepted that they’ll catch up on sleep the following week.
Pat and the boys writing songs on the spot with beachside fans on Saturday morning.
Our final day in the Outer Banks kicked off with the songwriting sessions with the fans. Last year was the maiden voyage for this event and this time around was even better.
Folks always ask me how I write songs and I thought this exercise would be a great way to give fans insight into the process. We literally start from scratch and the artists quickly collaborate and attempt to come up with a tune. By the end of the morning session we crafted something catchy and a nice young lass held my iPhone while I sang into the mic.
Sometimes fans toss out suggestions and whether they know it or not, head nodding and facial expressions—good, or bad—play a role in the shape the song may take. We also work with fans on their original song ideas, should they have something they want to share.
Like Will Ferrell’s character “Frank The Tank” in Old School, this exercise is like being in the “trust tree in the nest”, as songwriting is a very personal and vulnerable process. The time spent focused on songwriting in the midst of a three-day beach bash further underscores the true spirt of Down The Hatch. I trust these people and they trust me.
Sharing the songwriting process with fans is something that never gets old.
Personally, my biggest takeaway from the beachside songwriting sessions came last year when I had the fans’ support and learned it was truly acceptable to include the lyric, “I love you” in a song called “Overboard”, which I wrote for my wife, recorded a few weeks back and will include on my next album. I vividly remember the reaction of some of the women in attendance when I sang that line and in that moment, I knew it was a keeper.
The rest of our lazy Saturday was live-performance-driven, with a second day of sets played in the sand and another picture-perfect day. We capped off the late afternoon with a full BBQ spread from one of my all-time favorite mom-and-pop spots, Pigman’s Bar-B-Que.
Pigman's BBQ ... no words are necessary. Just look at the pic and try not to drool.
I’ve been eating there since I was a kid and it always feels as comfortable as an old t-shirt when they set-up and do their saucy thing. (A side note and hearty thanks to the Pigman’s crew for their to-go packaging job that allowed me to bring the leftovers back to Rhode Island. My friends and neighbors remain thoroughly impressed at my ability to repurpose frozen meats. Taco nights have been off the chain lately–yes, there is still Pigman’s beef in my freezer!)
Our final Down The Hatch installment was our 70′s-themed concert. For the first time ever we decided to use the Ramada Ballroom, in an effort to keep things exclusive to our Hatchers.
When coming up with the vibe for each night, I harken back to when I vacationed to various island destinations and there was often a theme. At the time I’d roll my eyes and act above that degree of cheesiness. Just give me my all-inclusive hibachi meal and shelf-liquor beverage I paid good money for and let me go sit in my hammock with my lady.
The Mustache Bash in the Ramada Ballroom on Saturday night brought down the house.
In time I learned that I was wrong and that’s certainly not the type of vibe that fits our Down The Hatch motif. Theme nights are as much a part of DTH as the music itself and I love seeing folks go all-out with their costumes and personas.
70′s night looks like a mainstay for future events. The mustache-fest was simply too groovy to not bring back, while the ladies looked downright Veronica Corningstone—smokin’. (Or wait, was that Bentz?)
I don’t know where to begin raving about all the artists and their inspired looks, so I’ll suggest taking the time to peruse the photo galleries put together by the super-talented Daniel Glass, who captures the event through his lens, year after year.
McAloon, Simons and McGee going "album cover" with this pose.
Again the bands rocked through their killer originals, but pulled out some choice nugs from the era. A lot of Marvin Gaye and some R&B classics, as well as a full-fledged commitment to rent a proper disco ball next year.
I hope my foggy recap does DTH 2014 justice. If I left anything out, I encourage this year’s Hatchers to please sound off in the comments section below, as well as by way of social media, in order to tell the proper story.
For those yet to attend, but on the fence, let this serve as proof that Down The Hatch is one hell of a good time. I always wind up chatting with first-timers on the final day and their lone regret is that it took them this long to commit and they wish they’d made the plunge sooner.
Another successful guitar lesson session. Can't wait to see the progress in 2015!
Because this event has become my ultimate passion project, we’ve already got the ball rolling for next year and blocked out the weekend—May 28-31, 2015. We’ve also locked down a few more names for next year, including Stephen Kellogg, Ellis Paul and Gareth Asher.
Reserve your hotel NOW by calling the Ramada Plaza at 800-635-1824 and asking for the “Pat McGee rate”. Because of the size of the ballroom and nature in which this event has grown over the past few years, I can all but guarantee you we’re looking at a sellout in ’15.
Tickets for next year’s event are now officially on sale, so click here to secure your spot.
If these gazebos could talk. Luckily they can't. See everyone again next May!
Lastly, for those of you who took the time to fill out the survey, thank you. We strive every year to make this event bigger and better and we absolutely read every comment—both the positive and the constructive criticism—and make it our mission to make enhancements before our next throw down.
Thank you again for all your support of Down The Hatch, as well as of the attending artists. Looking forward to seeing you at DTH 2015.
Until then, keep an eye on all of the artists as many are touring this year and will be in a town near you sooner than you might think. Show your fellow Hatchers some support!
Keaton Simons — www.KeatonSimons.com
Tony Lucca — www.TonyLucca.com
Matt Duke — www.Facebook.com/MattDukeSongs
Luke Brindley — www.LukeBrindley.com
Jason Adamo — www.JasonAdamoMusic.com
Patrick McAloon — www.PatrickMcAloon.com
Emily Hearn — www.EmilyHearn.com
Colby James — www.ColbyJamesLive.com
Michael Tolcher — www.MichaelTolcher.com
(Note: When watching the recap video, please make sure to watch in full-screen mode as it was uploaded in 1080p!)